Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Tabaian v. Intel Corp.

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

September 10, 2019

FEREYDUN TABAIAN and AHMAD ASHRAFZADEH, Plaintiffs,
v.
INTEL CORPORATION, Defendant.

          Jeffrey S. Love John D. Vandenburg James E. Geringer KLARQUIST SPARKMAN, LLP Howard L. Close J. Andrew Love Kathleen S. Rose Patrick B. McAndrew Ronald L. Flack, Jr. WRIGHT CLOSE & BARGER, LLP Luke Motley IV LAW OFFICES OF LUKE MOTLEY IV PC Luke Motley IV LAW OFFICES OF LUKE MOTLEY IV PC Attorneys for Plaintiffs Renée

          Renée E. Rothauge Anna Marie Joyce MARKOWITZ HERBOLD PC Michael J. Summersgill Jordan L. Hirsch WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE & DORR LLP Todd C. Zubler WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE & DORR LLP Arthur W. Coviello WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE & DORR LLP Ryan J. McBrayer PERKINS COIE, LLP Sarah J. Crooks PERKINS COIE, LLP Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION & ORDER

          MARCO A. HERNANDEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs Fereydun Tabaian and Ahmad Ashrafzadeh are the inventors and owners of United States Patent No. 7, 027, 944 Patent ("the '944 Patent") which is titled "Programmable Calibration Circuit for Power Supply Current Sensing and Droop Loss Compensation," and which issued on April 11, 2006. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 7, 8, ECF 1, ECF 1-1. In this action, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant infringes the '944 Patent.

         According to the September 7, 2018 amended case schedule, ECF 83, the parties filed claim construction briefs in April and May 2019. The briefing revealed that the parties agreed on two terms but disputed the meaning of eight other terms. I conducted a tutorial on June 19, 2019, and heard oral argument on June 20, 2019. This Opinion & Order resolves the eight claim construction disputes.

         PATENT & DISPUTED CLAIMS INTRODUCTION

         The patent discloses a "circuit for regulating power." '944 Patent, Abstract at 1, ECF 1-1.

         The full abstract recites:

A circuit for regulating power is disclosed. The present invention provides circuits and methods for current sensing variations, static droop settings, mismatched phase outputs, and temperature variations in a multiphase power regulator. The circuits may include a calibration controller that senses and regulates both a current sensing circuit and the droop in a power regulator over a range of temperatures thus equalizing phase outputs. The present invention includes the schematic organization and implementation of the circuit, the circuit's calibration, its use, and implementation. This invention advantageously provides circuits and methods to properly power a processor or IC chip according to the unique power specifications of the processor or chip.

Id.

         Claim 1 of the '944 Patent, the only independent claim, contains all of the disputed terms. With the disputed terms/phrases italicized, it recites:

1. A circuit comprising: a regulator circuit and a calibration control circuit, wherein said calibration control circuit includes a controller, an interface with nonvolatile memory, droop outputs, sense outputs, load voltage input, and temperature input; wherein
said nonvolatile memory stores calibration data;
said calibration control circuit interfaces with said regulator circuit via said sense outputs, said droop outputs, and said load voltage input;
said calibration control circuit interfaces with said non-volatile memory to store calibration data;
said calibration control circuit interfaces with said temperature input to receive temperature data; said temperature data is used by said calibration control circuit to adjust said sense outputs and said droop outputs; and said calibration control circuit interfaces with said temperature input and said load voltage input to calibrate said calibration data stored in said nonvolatile memory.

'944 Patent, 10:2-20 (emphases added)[1].

         In addition to these disputed terms, the parties have agreed on the meaning of two additional terms appearing in Claim 1: (1) "nonvolatile memory": "memory that does not lose data when power to the memory is removed"; and (2) "temperature input": "input to the calibration control circuit that provides temperature data." Jt. Claims Const. Chart, Ex. A, ECF 115-1.

         CLAIM CONSTRUCTION STANDARDS

         Patent infringement analysis involves two steps. Duncan Parking Techs., Inc. v. IPS Grp., Inc., 914 F.3d 1347, 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2019). First, the court construes the asserted patent claims. Id. (citing Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 976 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc)). Second, the factfinder determines whether the accused product or method infringes the asserted claim as construed. Id. (citing Markman, 52 F.3d at 976). The first step, claim construction, is a matter of law "exclusively within the province of the court." Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 372 (1996). "It is a bedrock principle of patent law that the claims of a patent define the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude." Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc) (internal quotation marks omitted). Patent claims must precisely define the relevant invention to put both the public and competitors on notice of the claimed invention. Id.

         To construe a patent claim, courts first look to the language of the claims in the patent itself, the description in the patent's specification, and the patent's prosecution history, all of which constitute a record "on which the public is entitled to rely." Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1583 (Fed. Cir. 1996); Dow Chem. Co. v. Sumitomo Chem. Co., 257 F.3d 1364, 1372 (Fed. Cir. 2001). The court considers other extrinsic evidence only if this intrinsic evidence is insufficient to resolve the ambiguity of a term. Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1583.

         "The actual words of the claim are the controlling focus." Digital Biometrics, Inc. v. Identix, Inc., 149 F.3d 1335, 1344 (Fed. Cir. 1998). "[T]he words of the claims are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1312 (internal quotation marks omitted). "[T]he ordinary and customary meaning of a claim term is the meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application." Id. at 1313. There is a "heavy presumption" that a claim term carries its ordinary and customary meaning, and a party seeking to convince a court that a term has some other meaning "must, at the very least," point to statements in the written description that "affect the patent's scope." Johnson Worldwide Assocs., Inc. v. Zebco Corp., 175 F.3d 985, 989 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks omitted). This may be accomplished when: (1) "a different meaning [is] clearly and deliberately set forth in the intrinsic materials" of the patent; or (2) the use of "the ordinary and accustomed meaning of a disputed term would deprive the claim of clarity[.]" K-2 Corp. v. Salomon S.A., 191 F.3d 1356, 1363 (Fed. Cir. 1999). In making this assessment, the court should use common sense and "the understanding of those of ordinary skill in the art" of the patent at issue, unless the patent history supplies another meaning. Id. at 1365.

         Beyond the plain language of the claims, the patent specification is always highly relevant and often dispositive to the proper construction. Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1582 (explaining that the specification is "the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term"). The purpose of the patent specification is to teach and enable those skilled in the art to make and use the invention, along with the best method for doing so. Cyber Acoustics, LLC v. Belkin Int'l., Inc., No. 3:13-cv-01144-SI, 2014 WL 1225198, at *2 (D. Or. Mar. 24, 2014) (citing Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1323). The inventor can use the specification to describe the invention in a number of ways, such as describing different "embodiments" of the invention and by assigning particular meanings to specific claim language. Metabolite Labs., Inc. v. Lab. Corp. of Am. Holdings, 370 F.3d 1354, 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2004); Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1316. The embodiments serve as illustrative examples of the invention claimed. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1323 ("One of the best ways to teach a person of ordinary skill in the art how to make and use the invention is to provide an example of how to practice the invention in a particular case."). The inventor can also clarify that he or she intends the claim language to carry a specific meaning different from its ordinary one. Id. In these cases, "the inventor's lexicography governs." Id. at 1316.

         Finally, the prosecution history, which contains the record of the proceedings before the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), Vitronics, 90 F.3d. at 1582-83, may be useful where it "provides evidence of how the PTO and the inventor understood the patent." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317. However, this evidence is less valuable because it represents an "ongoing negotiation" between the inventor and the PTO. Id. The final result of that negotiation, the patent itself, provides better evidence of the claim's intended meanings at the time the patent issued. Id.

         In the end, the "court's ultimate goal is to construe the disputed terms in a manner consistent with the way the inventor defined them and a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand them." j2 Global Commc'ns Inc. v. Captaris Inc., No. CV 09-04150 DDP (AJWx), 2011 WL 837923, at *3 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 4, 2011). "The construction that stays true to the claim language and most naturally aligns with the patent's description of the invention will be, in the end, the correct construction." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1316 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         The disputed claim terms and phrases are: (1) "droop outputs"; (2) "sense outputs"; (3) "calibration data"; (4) "calibration control circuit"; (5) "load voltage input"; (6) "temperature data is used by said calibration control circuit to adjust said sense outputs and said droop outputs"; (7) "said calibration control circuit interfaces with said nonvolatile memory to store calibration data"; and (8) "said calibration control circuit interfaces with said regulator circuit via said sense outputs, said droop outputs, and said load voltage input." I. "Droop Outputs" The first disputed term is "droop outputs" as recited in Claim 1's introductory paragraph and again in Elements 2 and 5. Plaintiffs' proposed construction is "outputs of the calibration control circuit used to adjust voltage in circuitry, in a system that includes a droop function that can lower output voltage based on output current."

         Defendant's proposed construction is "outputs of the calibration control circuit used to adjust the droop function (i.e. the function that automatically lowers the output voltage based on the output current)." The italicized portions are disputed. The gist of the dispute is that Plaintiffs' proposal does not limit "droop outputs" to adjusting droop function. Plaintiffs offer a broader definition by expanding "droop outputs" to adjusting voltage generally in a system that includes a droop function. Defendant's proposal confines the adjustment made by the droop output to the droop function. I agree with Defendant because its proposed construction is supported by the claim language and the specification, and is consistent with the patent's purpose.

         The introductory paragraph of Claim 1 discloses a regulator circuit and a calibration control circuit (CCC). '944 Patent, 10:2-3. But, after this introductory language, Claim 1 contains only one additional reference to the regulator circuit. That reference is in Element 2 where the claim discloses that the CCC "interfaces with said regulator circuit via said sense outputs, said droop outputs, and said load voltage input." Id., 10:8-10. Although this element refers to the regulator circuit, the focus is on the action of the CCC. Thus, Claim 1 addresses the components and function of the CCC.

         The first of the three references to "droop outputs" in Claim 1 is in the introductory paragraph which lists the components of the CCC. Id.; 10:5. The second is in Element 2 as noted in the previous paragraph where the claim recites that the CCC interfaces with the regulator circuit via droop outputs. Id.; 10:8-10. The third is in Element 5 which provides that the CCC uses temperature data to adjust the sense and droop outputs. Id.; 10:15-17. Claim 1's plain language recites (1) a circuit that includes a CCC which has droop outputs as one of several components; (2) the CCC uses temperature data to adjust the droop outputs; and (3) the CCC then uses the droop outputs to interface with the regulator circuit.

         Plaintiffs note the absence of the phrase "droop function" in Claim 1. According to Plaintiffs, such absence shows "droop outputs" is not limited to "droop function." They also argue that because their proposal refers to "droop function" within a larger system environment, they do not read "droop" out of the term "droop output." Defendant argues that Plaintiffs read "droop" out of "droop outputs" because Plaintiffs' construction allows the droop outputs to adjust voltage generally. Notwithstanding that Plaintiffs' proposal includes the presence of a system including a droop function, the crux of Plaintiffs' proposed interpretation is that droop outputs may adjust voltage generally.

         The claim language indicates that "droop outputs" relate to "droop" in some fashion. The language of Claim 1 shows that the CCC uses temperature data to adjust the droop outputs which then interface with the regulator circuit. By distinguishing "droop output" from "sense output," and by not using a more generic term of "output," Claim 1 indicates that a "droop output" is related to "droop."

         Plaintiffs also point to the absence of an "error circuit," a "droop amplifier, or "current sense circuit" in Claim 1. These components are part of the circuitry shown in Figure 1. Because the plain language of Claim 1 omits these terms, Plaintiffs argue that "droop output" is not limited to droop function or to what is shown in Figure 1.

         Plaintiffs are correct that Claim 1 does not recite an error circuit, a droop amplifier, or a current sense circuit. But, it does recite that the CCC interfaces with the regulator circuit via the droop outputs which the CCC adjusts based on temperature data. Claim 1 discloses the components of the CCC. The parties, however, dispute what these components ultimately do. In order to resolve the dispute over the meaning attributable to a component such as "droop outputs," I must determine the function of the component as disclosed in the patent. That function is gleaned from the other parts of the patent including the specification, the claims, and the purpose. Thus, while the words of Claim 1 do not themselves refer to the error circuit, the droop amplifier, or the current sense circuit, Claim 1 makes clear that the CCC uses the droop outputs to provide information relevant to droop to the regulator circuit. Because, as explained below, the regulator circuit includes circuits in which droop outputs relate to droop function, Defendant's proposed construction finds more support in the plain language of Claim 1 than Plaintiffs' proposal.

         The specification explains that the CCC may use the droop outputs to adjust the droop amplifier. Id., 7:23-25. The droop amplifier "drives the error circuit." Id., 7:17-18; see also id., 8:64-67 ("This adjustable droop amplifier 180 may be used to adjust the droop loss across the current sense circuit 140. The adjustment of the droop amplifier 180 may be used to drive an error circuit."). Droop function "is used in a power supply to automatically lower the output voltage based on the output current." Id., 1:36-38. Plaintiffs themselves acknowledge that "the function of automatically lowering the output voltage based on the output current is implemented by the adjustable droop amplifier 180 in conjunction with [the] error circuit." Pls.' Op. Brief 7-8, ECF 143 (citing '944 Patent, 9:7-9). These specification descriptions support Defendant's contention that the droop outputs adjust the droop amplifier which in turn drives the error circuit to implement the droop function and therefore, the droop outputs are outputs of the CCC that adjust the droop function.

         Figure 1 of the '944 Patent "is a schematic of one embodiment of the present invention showing two phases of a multiphase regulator connected with a calibration control circuit 190[.]" '944 Patent, 8:34-36. Figure 1 reveals the various connections between the CCC and the regulator circuit. Figure 1 clearly shows the CCC providing input to the adjustable droop amplifier 180. It also clearly shows that the adjustable droop amplifier provides input to the error circuit 170 which provides input to the error amplifier 175. The error amplifier provides input to the pulse width modulator (PWM) 160. Id., Fig 1; see also id., 9:7-9 ("The output of the error amplifier 175 drives one port of each pulse width modulator 160 to compensate for the droop loss."). The PWM then adjusts the output power. E.g., id., 8:59-9-11.

         Figure 2 is a more detailed schematic of the CCC. Id., 9:23-24 (stating that the CCC in Figure 1 is shown in more detail in Figure 2); see also id., 9:24-25 (Figure 2 "shows one embodiment of the calibration control circuit"). There, the CCC is shown to have several components, including the controller, the nonvolatile memory, and digital to analog and analog to digital converters. Id., Fig. 2. Figure 2 shows that the CCC "controls the adjustments to the droop amplifier via the droop output 550[.]" Id., 9:25-27. The "droop output 550 from the controller 500 in one embodiment interfaces with the adjustable droop amplifier via digital to analog converter with registered input 600 and amplifier 640." Id., 9:37-40.

         Figures 1 and 2 show that the CCC uses the droop outputs to control adjustments to the droop amplifier. Together, the specification and the figures show that the droop amplifier, via the error circuit and then the PWM, adjusts the droop function which is the function that automatically lowers the output voltage based on the output current.

         While Plaintiffs acknowledge that the CCC uses the droop outputs to make adjustments in a system that includes a droop function which lowers output voltage based on output current, they contend that the claim term is not limited to adjustments to the droop function. Instead, Plaintiffs argue that "droop outputs" is properly interpreted to allow adjustments to voltage more generally in a system with a droop function. In support, they rely heavily on the following sentence which appears in the specification's description of Figure 1: "Adjusting the droop amplifier 180 may be equivalent to adjusting the reference voltage." Id.; 9:4-5. Plaintiffs argue that this shows that the CCC uses droop outputs to adjust voltage generally in the regulatory circuitry. They contend that this description confirms that droop outputs adjust voltage without necessarily adjusting droop function. They assert that the phrase is a clear statement that "droop output(s) may adjust an output voltage[.]" Pls.' Resp. Br. 14, ECF 150.

         I disagree. Plaintiffs' interpretation of this single sentence is taken out of context. When the specification's full description of Figure 1 is considered, it is clear that the specification explains that adjusting the droop amplifier causes the PWM, via the error circuit, to set the voltage at a different level and therefore, adjusting the droop amplifier to implement a droop function effectively changes the level of voltage targeted by the regulator. The entire passage is as follows:

The output of the adjustable sense amplifier 150 drives the current sense input of the pulse width modulator (PWM) 160 to generate the proper pulse width signal to the power output FET 130 to regulate the output power. The adjustable sense amplifier 150 also drives the shared summing input port to the adjustable droop amplifier 180. This adjustable droop amplifier 180 may be used to adjust the droop loss across the current sense circuit 140. The adjustment of the droop amplifier 180 may be used to drive an error circuit. The adjusted voltage driver circuit may be compared against the reference voltage at the error amplifier 175 to generate the error voltage value for the pulse width modulators 160. Adjusting the droop amplifier 180 may be equivalent to adjusting the reference voltage. The load voltage 165 may be monitored via the calibration control circuit 190.
The output of the error amplifier 175 drives one port of each pulse width modulator 160 to compensate for the droop loss. The output of an individual pulse width modulator 160 drives its associated phase control set register 110 to control the output drive FET 130.

'944 Patent, 8:59-9:11 (emphases added). The surrounding language supports Defendant's construction which effectively places the word "thus" at the beginning of the sentence at line 4 of column 9 so that it reads: "[Thus, ] [a]djusting the droop amplifier 180 may be equivalent to adjusting the reference voltage." The only sensible conclusion from reading the sentence in context is that the sentence is a continuation of the preceding description and expresses the concept of "in this or that manner or way," meaning that adjusting the droop amplifier in the manner or way just described in the preceding passage results in an adjustment to the reference voltage. Because the "in this manner or way" includes driving the error circuit which inputs to the PWM to adjust the voltage, the sentence does not recite that the droop outputs are used to adjust voltage generally in the regulator circuitry.

         The background and purpose of the invention also support Defendant's construction. The '944 Patent states that a problem with multiphase voltage regulators is the mismatch in the current between phases. Id., 1:19-23 ("the load current is not always equally shared among all the phases of multi-phase regulators causing inadequate operation and excessive heat in the power devices of one or more phases of a multi-phase power supply."). Thus, current equalization among all phases is important. Id., 1:23-25. While current sense circuits are used, "resister elements" which measure the source current for each phase of the power supply have a "high degree of variation from one to another over changing environmental conditions and over "production lot variations." Id., 1:25-32. Using these elements to sense current "causes a mismatch in the current between phases" and as of the time the '944 Patent issued, there were "no reasonable solutions to this mismatch." Id., 1:34-35.

         Additionally, "droop function accuracy is directly related to the current sensing accuracy." Id., 1:43-44. "Historically, setting the droop accurately has also been a major problem due to inadequacies in current sensing and processor batch variations." Id., 1:53-55. With fixed droop settings, which the patent indicates was the norm at the time, "the power supply is unable to adapt to the processor[']s power needs." Id., 1:61-62. This leads to "inefficient and costly" "processor waste" because "processors with power specifications beyond what the power supply can produce are wasted." Id., 1:62-65. Thus, accurate current sensing affects the accuracy of the droop function and inaccurate and fixed droop function leads to waste. Accurate current sensing and droop function also depend on responsiveness to changes in temperature. Because most "elements used in current sensing have positive temperature coefficients," the "resistence of the circuit increases as the temperature increases." Id., 1:67-2:2. "This variation results in erroneous measurements of the current over temperature variations causing further droop inaccuracies." Id., 2:2-4.

         As explained in the "Background of the Invention," the global problem the invention was designed to address was "mismatched power phases" in a multiphase regulator with specific problems of excessive heat (caused by unequal current among phases) and processor waste (caused by fixed and inaccurate droop function) both of which were adversely affected by variations in temperature. Id., 1:15-2:7. Given that inaccurate droop function was an identified problem the invention was designed to address, Defendant's proposed construction of "droop outputs" more closely aligns with this purpose. Plaintiffs' proposed construction offers little over what existed in the technology at the time of the invention because a construction in which droop outputs generally adjust voltage does not resolve the problem created by inaccurate or fixed droop function.

         The abstract of the invention further supports my conclusion. The abstract expressly states that the invention disclosed is a "circuit for regulating power." Id., Abstract at 1. The invention provides "circuits and methods" for addressing the problems of "current sensing variations, static droop settings, mismatched power phase outputs, and temperature variations" in multiphase power regulators. Id. The "circuits" may include a "calibration controller that senses and regulates both a current sensing circuit and the droop in a power regulator over a range of temperatures thus equalizing phase outputs." Id. The invention "includes the schematic organization and implementation of the circuit, the circuit's calibration, its use, and implementation." Id. According to the abstract, the invention is a single circuit which regulates power but which contains circuits, and methods for addressing the identified problems with current, droop, power, and temperature. Id. ("The present invention provides circuits and methods for current sensing variations, static droop settings, mismatched phase outputs, and temperature variations in a multiphase power regulator."). These circuits "may" include a calibration controller. That calibration controller is the only identified component which allows for both "a current sensing circuit and the droop [function] over a range of temperatures [in order to] equalize phase outputs." As depicted in Figure 1, the "circuits" (other than the CCC) that the invention uses to solve the identified problems include the error circuit and the current sense circuit. By its plain language, the abstract discloses that the calibration controller regulates droop function.

         When Claim 1 is read in close context with the abstract, the initial "circuit" referred to in Claim 1's introductory paragraph ("What is claimed is: 1. A circuit . . . ." '944 Patent, 10:1-2) aligns with the comprehensive circuit the abstract states is a "circuit for regulating power." In Claim 1, this comprehensive circuit includes a regulator circuit and a CCC. Id., 10:2-3. This disclosure corresponds to the abstract's reference to the invention providing "circuits." The abstract then states that these "circuits" may include a calibration controller. Claim 1 addresses the components and function of the CCC, the circuit including the calibration controller noted in the abstract.

         The abstract indicates that it is the calibration controller, and no other circuit or component, that controls the comprehensive circuit's ability to "sense[] and regulate[] both a current sensing circuit and the droop in a power regulator over a range of temperatures" to equalize power among multiple phase outputs. Id. Claim 1, then, must be understood in the context of this description of the CCC. Accordingly, Claim 1 discloses the part of the global circuit that controls the very functions the invention uses to overcome the identified problems. The CCC's purpose, consistent with the abstract and the background descriptions, is to address the current and droop issues which combined to impair the effective operation of then-existing multiphase power regulators. The CCC's "droop outputs" must bear a relationship to droop function.

         Two more arguments need to be addressed. First, reminiscent of its plain language argument, Plaintiffs note that Claims 26-36 expressly recite the circuitry shown in Figure 1 including the error circuit, droop amplifier, and current sense circuit. Id., 11:27-12:44. Plaintiffs contend that Defendant is improperly attempting to import the limitations of Claim 26 into Claim 1. Because the error circuit and other circuitry that actually implement the droop function are shown only in these ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.